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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

McCain’s Misleading Mailer

He faults Romney for "providing" state funding for abortions that Romney didn't seek, and courts ordered.


McCain is sending out a postcard mailing in South Carolina that is misleading on more than one point.

  • It says that "Romney provided taxpayer-funded abortions," a distortion. Romney’s Massachusetts health-care plan faced a court order requiring abortions to be covered.
  • It says Romney "refused to endorse Bush Tax Cut Plan," but fails to note that McCain himself voted against it.
  • It says, "Hillary tried to spend $1 million for a Woodstock museum" until "John McCain said NO." In fact, McCain wasn’t present for the most important votes on the project.


A copy of the mailer was provided to us by the Mitt Romney campaign at our request, after news accounts about it surfaced over the weekend.

It shows a smiling John McCain promising to "fight for lower taxes" and to "veto every single pork-barrel bill that crosses my desk." Fair enough. Those pledges sound very similar to promises Romney himself has been making. But the mailer goes on to draw a picture of Romney’s record as governor of Massachusetts that is so distorted as to discredit McCain’s claim to be the candidate of "straight talk."

Taxpayer-Funded Abortions?

One section says in bold letters: "Romney provided taxpayer-funded abortions." That’s unfair and misleading at best and certainly leaves a false impression. Romney never pushed for taxpayer funding for abortions. The state law he signed provided greatly expanded state-subsidized health insurance for low-income residents, but it left decisions about what should be covered to an independent body, the Commonwealth Connector. It was that body, not Romney, that ruled that abortions would be covered.

In truth, the state had little choice but to cover abortions. The state Supreme Court had ruled in 1980 that the Massachusetts Constitution confers on Massachusetts women an even broader right to abortion than does the U.S. Constitution. It restated in a 1997 decision that the state must pay for medically necessary abortions if it pays for all other medically necessary procedures including services in connection with childbirth.

It is possible to argue (and some have done so) that Romney might have put up a public fight to narrow the abortion coverage had he chosen to do so, or that the Commonwealth Connector decided to cover more than is "medically necessary." But it is simply false for McCain to claim that "Romney provided taxpayer funded abortions" when taxpayers had been ordered by the courts to pay for them long before Romney took office.

Stoning a Glass House

The mailer further says that Romney "refused to endorse Bush Tax Cut Plan," and there is more than a grain of truth to that. As we’ve reported before, Romney was quoted in 2003 as telling his state’s congressional delegation that he "won’t be a cheerleader" for cuts that he doesn’t agree with and that he wouldn’t oppose the cuts in public because he "has to keep a solid relationship with the White House."

What makes the McCain mailer misleading is that McCain himself went way beyond quietly refusing to endorse the 2003 tax cut plan. He was one of only three Senate Republicans to vote against it. The day after Bush proposed the cuts he criticized them as too generous to the rich. "It is middle-income Americans that have kept our economy afloat by buying houses and automobiles," McCain said on MSNBC’s "Hardball." "I believe that they deserve the majority of the break, not the higher-income level of Americans."

By attacking Romney for not supporting the 2003 cuts, McCain invites readers to believe that he himself must have supported them, which isn’t true. Furthermore, McCain also voted against Bush’s 2001 tax cuts, before Romney took office as governor.

Were You at Woodstock?

McCain’s mailer somewhat inflates his role in killing a proposal that would have allotted $1 million to New York state’s Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, the proposed site of a museum celebrating the 1969 Woodstock music festival and its effect on American culture. It was, as the McCain mailing says, supported by Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton, as well as other members of the New York delegation. And strictly speaking, it’s true that "John McCain said NO" to the proposal, in that he was one of three who cosponsored a proposed amendment to strip the project out of the appropriations bill.

But McCain wasn’t present for the key vote or the floor debate on his measure. He was on the campaign trail.

$700 Million in Tax Increases?
We also have a small quibble with the mailer’s claim that "Romney raised taxes by $700 million" in Massachusetts. That’s not strictly true. Most of the added state revenue for which Romney was responsible came in the form of fees, not taxes. And not everybody agrees on the total.
According to an estimate by the Massachusetts Department of Administration and Finance produced by the Romney campaign, increases in fees amounted to $260 million a year, and elimination of corporate tax "loopholes" brought in another $174 million a year. But the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation puts the total of increased fees and corporate taxes at $740 million to $750 million per year.
McCain Comments

McCain denied that his mailer constitutes the sort of "negative campaigning" that he has complained about when aimed at him. On the campaign trail in Michigan, he told reporters that he was just responding to earlier attacks by Romney. As quoted by MSNBC, he said:

McCain: It’s not negative campaigning. I think it’s what his record is. … [W]e will point out those matters of record. It’s a tough business. I said it in the debate the other night. It’s a tough business for all the candidates that are running. When millions of dollars are spent attacking us, we are going to have to respond.

Our judgment, however, is that McCain’s "Straight Talk Express" took a wrong turn with this mailer.

–by Brooks Jackson


Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts v. Attorney General, 424 Mass. 586, 677 N.E.2d 101 (1997).

Anthony York, "Republican moderates balk at Bush tax cut; Resistance from McCain, Snowe, Chafee and others could spell trouble for the president’s radical proposal." Salon.com 9 Jan 2003.

U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 110th Congress – 1st Session, Vote Number 377 18 Oct 2007.

Brian C. Mooney, "Analyst puts increase in fees, taxes at $700m; Governor gives far lower figure," Boston Globe 27 Sep 2006.